Many know that London’s Tube system inhabits mice and rats, but few are aware that it also serves as a home to Culex pipiens molestus, the London Underground Mosquito.
London Underground Mosquito is a bio-form of the Culex pipiens mosquito that is commonly seen all over the UK – during warmer seasons.
But if you get a mosquito bite during winter, it is probably by Culex pipiens molestus, according to Anders Lindström who works as a scientist at the National Veterinary Institute in Sweden:
They can’t hibernate, so they need blood meals throughout the winter. So in the colder parts of the world they have adapted to live in basements, cellars and subways. They will have to be down in the underground where its warmer, or they will freeze to death.
Anders Lindström explains that Culex pipiens molestus is a bio-form that in just a few hundred years, has adapted to living in closed spaces, unlike mosquitoes in temperate regions which live out in the open.
In the book ‘Darwin Comes To Town’, released earlier this year, evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen writes about why this specific insect has baffled scientists:
We have been taught that evolution is a slow process, imperceptibly whittling species over millions of years – not something that could take place within the short time span of human history.
The London Underground Mosquito was first discovered in Egypt in the 19th century, and became infamous during the Second World War, hence the name.
Dr Erica McAlister, senior curator at the Natural History Museum, says that a number of reports form the Blitz testify that people taking shelter in The Underground were bothered by the Culex pipiens molestus:
Hundreds of hundreds of people would spend every night bunked up, and a lot of them, their complaints were not about the bombing, but about the noise. The buzz, the whining going on at night and being bitten. It became the bad boy of the insect world at that point, and the name ‘London Underground Mosquito’ has stuck.
Another difference between the underground and the overground mosquito is that the London Underground Mosquito feeds on human blood, the overground form prefer birds.
So is there any need to worry about the underground blood feeder? Not really, except for the itch, Culex pipiens molestus are harmless to humans. For now.
Want to learn more about the London Underground Mosquito and how it effects us?
Listen to a London Multimedia News audio feature about the Culex pipiens molestus, by Nina Kruse: